Iron & Wine | Big Burned Hand

7 Comments 23 | March | 2011

Better known for folk ballads that drip like molasses, Sam Beam switched up the formula for this year’s Kiss Each Other Clean.  Sporting a more “in your face” sound, his fan base has been experiencing a degree of shock and to a lesser extent, disillusionment.

Sam?  Is that you??  Are you there?…under that beard?

In fact, aside from his trademark wonderfully hushed and soothing vocals, the only element more synonymous with Iron & Wine is Sam’s beard.  When it comes to individuals being inextricably linked to facial hair, he is on even footing with Tom Selleck, Rollie Fingers, ZZ Top, Jesus and Hitler.  (I’m going to go ahead and assume you don’t need hyperlinks for the last two.)  I hate to speculate on what would happen if he shaved his beard, but I’m pretty sure that would lead to the whole fire and brimstone part of the Bible.  I mean if Sam shaved, not Jesus.

Just as his beard has taken many shapes over the past 9 years, it comes as no surprise that on successive  releases Iron & Wine has reached for a more polished sound.  Nobody is blaming him, it’s just different….to the point that if you listened to The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002), immediately followed by Kiss Each Other Clean, you might not gather that it’s the same artist.  Undoubtedly the critical acclaim garnered along the way has afforded him the ability to “experiment” with new arrangements and “superior” production, a path not unfamiliar to budding stars of the independent music scene.   (Yes, I know that the latter set of quotation marks is seething with an elitist, “I knew him when…” tone, but in this case I only wish to point out that to some, less is (and will always be) more.)

The prime example of Iron & Wine’s “newfound sound” is the track “Big Burned Hand.”  Drenched in jazzy sax and funkdafied wah-wah effects, it’s a frontrunner for the theme song to the revival of the television series Night Court.  Oh, John Larroquette…you’re such a perv.  Despite the foreign packaging, Beam shines through with his familiar vocals and successfully autographs the piece.  The remaining tracks on Kiss contribute their own nuances, helping to reshape Iron & Wine into something new and shiny.

What began as a remarkable lo-fi journey, sparse in sound but full of emotion, has grown into a sophisticated and wide-ranging palette of compositions.  For long time listeners, even if his latest efforts don’t rank as his best, you can still hear the bubbling Creek below, just as sure as Sam is behind that beard.

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What’s your favorite Iron & Wine album?  Favorite Track?
Who’s your favorite character on Night Court? (Bull!!  Duh….winning!)
Guys:  How long would it take you to grow Sam’s beard?
Ladies:  How long would you tolerate it?

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